How decades of divorce helped erode religion


Two widely recognized trends in American society might have something to do with each other.

Divorce rates climbed to the highest levels ever in the 1980s, when about half of all marriages ended in divorce.

And in the present day, Americans are rapidly becoming less religious. Since 1972, the share of Americans who say they do not adhere to any particular religion has increased from 5 percent of the population to 25 percent.



Chicken or the egg issue if you ask me, assuming they’re related (which admittedly is possible). Are divorces increasing because people are less religious, or are people less religious because divorces are increasing? I mean it can’t be entirely correlated since far more than just the a-religious are getting divorced. In fact many who are religious are getting divorced as well. :shrug:


Absolutely they are related.

Marital love is supposed to be that which is representative of God’s relation to His people. There are several references in Holy Scripture that uses terms of marriage and marital unity to describe How God loves His people. Marriage is supposed to bring glory to God, reflect what true love is. (How many couples we know can we say we see God in their relationship?).

When that’s been mocked, abused, fiddled with in meaning, and disparaged for years, what child is going to believe " love " exists? There’s two kinds that pull for God the most… Priests and religious, and married couples. If those go, not much is held together.


Both simultaneously influence, I’d say.


Could it be that people simply turn to divorce because it is easily available? Had it been so available earlier in the century we would have seen an increase in it then, too.


Beautifully said, Anne Elizabeth! Thank you!



I think the divorces are more of a cause. I think divorces increased because changes in the 50s and 60s onwards made it a viable option. Society no longer “forced” married couples to remain married.

Also, think of this. It is pretty rare to find a spouse of the same faith, denomination, and level of religiosity whom you are attracted to and compatible with in your geographic area. More or less one person converts (often superficially) or simply tolerates the other’s faith as the family faith. After divorce there’s no reason to remain with that denomination. That puts the child in the same odds as parents with two or no faiths.


Well, kind of… I see what you are saying. But remember there are a few other factors… .

The fact that women are “liberated” now. They can work. They can work full time jobs and support their children, and so now they don’t have to put up with abuse anymore. They can leave… not so in eras past… practically everywhere on earth. Women were basically at the mercy of their father or husband or ‘lord’. They had to do what the man in her life told her … or pay dire circumstances.

There is also the fact that most families supported themselves by themselves- no downtown grocery stores, just family hands working the family farm and each family helping each other. So, there was this great need for everyone to work together… the very well being of all (not just in the family but the community too) depended on everyone sticking together, working together. Today, nope! You can leave. You can get your sustenance at a 711 if you really are in a pinch. Just get a job- the company will keep you alive, so as long as you work for the almighty $$$ for your life’s work.

So i think ‘independence’ can be a factor of the rising divorce rates too. But I agree with you, now that its accepted, its excused… its very free. There is not a whole lot of shame to it.

Honestly, I don’t know where I stand on the issue… should there be shame for choosing what you think is the ‘wrong person’ for marriage? It appears to be an easy mistake to make, if it is. Especially when those young adults have no clue who God is, don’t search for Him, don’t believe. Without a SOLID catachism or belief in faith, how do they expect them to stand? How would those know what love even is?

I think people don’t know their faith, don’t trust in God, don’t W A I T (sexually, and maritally) to find the right person. They don’t’ want to be ALONE so they settle… then when God sends the right one along, there begins the affair, and/or heartbreak, … chaos of hurt and confusion- usually its the children that suffer the most. Do they remember Christ’s words about harming innocents? Its a lie that 'kids are resilient" … so what, every one is built to be resilient but there is only so much one can take. The goal is to protect a young soul so it can grow, just as a gardener knows to protect it seedlings so that it can become a strong healthy vibrant productive plant later.

Matthew 18
The Greatest in the Kingdom
…5And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. 6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7Woe to the world for the causes of sin. These stumbling blocks must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!


Thanks Morwenna for your kind words.


Perhaps the most basic reason for divorce is the couples now make vows to each other which they do not intend to keep.

When they buy a house, they make promises to their mortgage company that are not so easy to break. But vows of lifelong permanence, and faithfulness to a spouse? Not so much.


Funny that this topic came up. I was just researching a Catholic history curriculum for homeschooling. (People are making great strides in this regard, by the way. Thank you!) The sample chapter I read covered religious tension around the end of the 19th century in America. A certain Cardinal Gibbons was already lamenting the divorce culture in America as early as the 1890’s. He concluded that unless divorce were checked, the existence of family life itself was threatened.

Though generally positive and optimistic about American civilization, James Cardinal Gibbons was not blind to its less desirable aspects. In his book, Our Christian Civilization, first published in 1889, Gibbons gave statistical evidence that supported at least one of Father Walburg’s claims — that American society was characterized by a culture of divorce. Gibbons deplored what he termed the “reckless facility with which divorce is procured” in the United States. “Each State,” he wrote, “has on its statute books a list of causes, or rather pretexts, which are recognized as sufficient ground for divorce a vinculo. There are in all twenty-two or more causes, most of them of a very trifling character, and in some States, as in Illinois and Maine, the power of granting a divorce is left to the discretion of the judge.”

From a “special Report on the statistics of marriage and divorce made to Congress by Carroll D. Wright in February, 1889,” Gibbons condensed what he called “startling facts.” Among these facts was that the number of divorces in the United States went from 9,937 in 1867 to 14,800 in 1876, and from 15,687 in 1877 to 25,535 in 1886. In the first nine-year period, 1867-1876, the country saw 122,121 divorces nationwide; during the second nine-year period, 1877-1886, 206,595 divorces. “That is to say,” Gibbons observed, “the divorces in the latter half were 69 percent more than those in the first half. The population between 1870 and 1880 increased only by 30 percent. The divorces in 1867 were 10,962, and in 1880, they were 19,663, and . . . they are in 1886 more than two and one-half times what they were in 1867.”Lands of Hope and Promise: Sample Chapter 22, p. 589


This number has been long disputed. They calculate this by dividing the number of marriages in a year by the number of divorces in a year. This is NOT the same thing as half of all marriages ending in divorce. It only shows that there are half as many divorces as marriages in a given year.


The reason for the that increase is the introduction of No-Fault Divorces. This meant you didn’t need a reason for a divorce and you don’t need to prove it to the judge.

This is a good thing, because it allows people to get much-needed divorces even if they lack evidence. Before then if your spouse was beating you and threatening to kill you and you lacked evidence then you then you’d be stuck with that spouse if you couldn’t find enough evidence (not all abusers leave evidence behind).

Divorce usually means the end of a bad marriage, not the end of a good one. PEOPLE are what should be prioritized; if a marriage is marred by abuse or unrepentant adultery or addiction (when the addicted person refuses to get help) then it is NOT WORTH SAVING.


I’m not sure being culturally “forced” to remain in a loveless marriage, as many couples felt compelled to do in generations past, made either the spouses or their children any more open to religious practice. It likely had the opposite effect. Also, it seems to me that in generations past, religious practice was strongly linked to social acceptance. To be part of a given community, you went to church. If you didn’t, you might be ostracized. Times and the social structure have changed. Social acceptance does not seem to be the most compelling reason to engage in religious practice now, but it did seem to matter more many years ago.


Well, I can understand it.

Kids growing up in a family are told God loves them, that Mom and Dad made this special vow before God to stay together, Mom and Dad take them to God’s house to worship.

Then parents divorce- putting their kids through hell. Mom and Dad apparently don’t believe what they’ve been preaching to the kids. God certainly didn’t step in and answer their prayers to keep their family intact.

Why exactly are these kids supposed to be religious? Why are they supposed to see religion as something real, a faith to be lived, vice a social construction?

Throw in Mom and Dad going through several marriages with spouses of different faiths and then yes, I could see how divorce tends to cause a decline in religion.


I agree with much of what you’ve said here but not necessarily the portion in bold. My husband lived through his parents miserable divorce at a very formative age, and it was a second divorce for both parents. We’re about to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. His parents’ failings have modeled the life he didn’t want to have, and I don’t think he’s alone in that. I suppose it depends on a number of factors.

I think when they make the vows, they believe they’ll remain together forever. The trouble is, at the first hint of difficulty, it’s now ridiculously easy to just chuck the whole thing.


I question that so much. Not because I lack compassion for those in those situations, but because if you start saying “Ok, this marriage was*** not*** a real one and these good ones are real ones”… then you start to set up doubts about everything faith related when your belly so chooses to eat its delight and not what is God’s Will.

Were two joined at the altar or not? What does it mean when Scripture says “WHAT** GOD **PUT TOGETHER…” ? All of a sudden because one of them went ‘sour’ it is not a real bond anymore? The wedding was a sham, a dupe, somehow? !!! Wow. You can play that game then with probably just about everything in matters of faith. Scary stuff there as it would be lying to self and shipwrecking your faith so that it becomes something about YOU not about GOD.

How to trust in anything one says anymore when they flip flop and make exceptions, say “this person is BAD” therefore the marriage must be a false one because God wouldn’t surely have married me to a ‘bad’ person!. How is that an example of God’s love!!!.. It looks more like the kind where the crowds murder His Son with their unbelief because to them, here was this guy hanging on a cross who said he was The Savior and here he is dying pathetically on a cross- surely he wasn’t who he said he was!. Therefore, we did the right thing in having him done away with!

… Its certainly not the kind of love that God bestowed on every one of us sinners who deserve hell. Read the book of Hosea.

There is a problem when people think “comfy” is from god and discomfort means its bad. Remember the refiners fire- that’s where we are perfected… not that we should go looking for trouble (that would be pride). But the reality of marriage is… Even if the marriage started off beautifully, every person has the potential to ‘go bad’ in some way or manner. Its called temptation and sin and it happens to everyone. (( By the way, I am not defending heinous behavior of a ‘bad’ spouse. )) When you make exceptions like the ones you noted here, well, dear, that is* potentially *anyone’s future state of their marriage. Which means, marriage is a sham when it can be diffused at any time in the future into a statement where it was a ‘mistake’. That is why its not taken seriously anymore, because the youth have been shown this by the behavior and mindset of their elders.

Again, I question we need to find out what does Scripture mean when it says “WHAT **GOD **PUT TOGETHER…” .


Just responding to what you quoted… In the statement you bolded -I meant that the image of marriage, the thought of marriage- in culture - was being mocked, not necessarily by divorce itself, but by media… How marriage is portrayed, talked about, joked about… its very common to see marriage depicted poorly, unfavorably in all kinds of shows- people snubbing it, talking about how awful it is, etc. etc… Also I meant about how there is this push to have the meaning of the word marriage changed to include homosexual people wanting to ‘get married’. The term is hijacked basically.

It is for certain that those witnessing something horrendous to go through will learn from it and not bring it into their marriage. I hope I did not sound as if we are doomed- I do believe that like your husband, many children of divorce will succeed at bringing back meaning to love and marriage- because they have witnessed the effects of divorce.



People nowadays are more forthright about not being religious.


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